Alcohol is probably the most commonly used and abused drug in the United State and possibly in the world. It is probably also one of the most lethal, being implicated as a co-factor in 40 percent of drownings, about half of traffic deaths, 67 percent of homicides and 25 percent of suicides. It affects more than 12 million people directly each year (10 percent of all males and 3 percent of all females) and causes more than 200,000 deaths. It is the third greatest national health problem after heart disease and cancer. Alcohol has been, and still is, a major danger in society.
Lack of data makes it difficult to assess the actual number of alcohol-related injuries. It is estimated, however, that 20 to 25 percent of patients treated in urban hospital emergency rooms are intoxicated.If you attempt to help an intoxicated individual, it is often difficult, since the person may be belligerent and combative. Also, personal hygiene may be less than optimal. However, it is important that these individuals be helped and not just labeled "drunk." Their condition may be quite serious and even life-threatening.
Occasionally, a person will have consumed so much alcohol that signs of serious central nervous system depression appear. In such cases complete respiratory support may be necessary. Death can result from this degree of alcohol consumption.
The signs of alcohol intoxication include:
- Odor of alcohol on the person's breath or clothing.
- Unsteady, staggering walk.
- Slurred speech and the inability to carry on a conversation.
- Nausea and vomiting or the desire to vomit.
The first-aid care for an intoxicated person includes:
- Look for any injuries, since alcohol may mask pain.
- Check to see if the person is breathing.
- If vomiting occurs, turn the intoxicated person on his side so vomit will not be inhaled.
- Call 911 or local emergency number to alert the emergency medical services. In many cases, let the EMS personnel decide if the police should be alerted.
Assume that an injured victim or any unconscious victim has a spinal cord injury and needs to be stabilized against movement. Because of decreased pain perception, the intoxicated victim cannot be assessed reliably. If a spinal cord injury is suspected, wait for the emergency medical services (EMS) to arrive. They have the proper equipment and training to stabilize and move a victim.
Keep the airway open. Many intoxicated victims will vomit. The risk of aspirating or inhaling vomit into the lungs is very high. To reduce this risk, use the "recovery" position if: the victim is breathing and it is not believed that the victim has a neck or back injury. The "recovery" position can be used for both a conscious and unconscious person. The person is positioned on his side (left side is best) to keep the airway open and to allow drainage from the mouth if the person vomits or is bleeding.
Alcohol-induced seizures, either from alcohol ingestion or withdrawal, are usually brief and self-limiting.
Since many intoxicated individuals have been exposed to the cold, suspect hypothermia. They should be moved to a warm environment. All wet clothing should be removed, and the individual should be covered with warm blankets. Handle a hypothermic victim very gently since rough handling could induce a heart attack.
Call the poison control center and follow their instructions. The use of syrup of ipecac is not as popular as it once was since it may cause inhalation of vomit.
The negative effects in terms of death and illness from acute and chronic alcohol use are staggering. The consumption of alcohol is deeply imbedded in our society. Because of its widespread use, those likely to be affected by the drinking of alcohol of others should be educated in how to recognize the problem and how to help should an emergency arise.